The answer is quick and simple: NO.
There are two types of non-lawyers that hold themselves out as authorized to provide immigration related services to clients for a profit. The first are web-based companies with names like “speedy-greencard.com” (not a real company) that offer to review and process your immigration paperwork for half the cost of hiring an attorney. The second are individuals who refer to themselves as “paralegals,” “notarios,” or “immigration consultants” and claim to have some expertise in the field of immigration law, while offering to provide the same services as an attorney for a fraction of the cost. Below are just some of the reasons why you should never hire such an individual or company to assist you with an immigration matter.
- They Are Likely Committing a Crime
Engaging in the unauthorized practice of law is a crime in Washington (under RCW 2.48) and every other state in the nation. Only an attorney or accredited representative* can legally practice immigration law. A “paralegal” is not authorized to practice law and must work under the supervision of an attorney. Furthermore, anyone can call him or herself a “paralegal” as no license or qualification is required to use that title. There is no such thing as a “certified paralegal” (there are individuals who may have, for example, earned a “certificate in paralegal studies” by completing certain courses, but this is simply an educational credential, not an authorization to practice law in any capacity). In certain countries in Latin America, the term “notario” designates a person with a certain degree of legal training, who may be authorized to perform some services that in the United States would be the exclusive right of an attorney. No equivalent position exists in the United States, and it should not be confused with a “notary public” whose role is mainly to witness the signing of documents.
Such individuals or companies may claim that they are not engaged in the practice of law, but are merely “filling out paperwork,” and that as such the work does not require a licensed attorney. Let’s take a look at how the “practice of law” is defined in Washington State. You can be the judge:
“The practice of law is the application of legal principles and judgement with regard to the circumstances or objectives of another entity or person(s) which require the knowledge and skill of a person trained in law. This includes but is not limited to:
(1) Giving advice or counsel to others as to their legal rights or the legal rights or responsibilities of others for fees or other consideration.
(2) Selection, drafting, or completion of legal documents or agreements which affect the legal rights of an entity or person(s)…” (Washington Court Rules, General Rule 24).
If you are going to hire an individual or entity who is not licensed to practice law to assist you with an immigration matter, you need to ask yourself whether you trust someone who is breaking the law through the very act of providing these services.
2. Every Immigration Matter Has Serious Legal Implications
If someone tells you that immigration law is simply a matter of filling out paperwork, that’s the first sign that you should run away as fast as you can. Either they are not taking your matter seriously, or they don’t understand much about the immigration system. Any interaction you have with the immigration authorities, and any form you complete can affect your or your loved one’s ability to enter or remain in the United States, in some cases permanently. Whether or not you or your family can be united or remain together is not a matter to be trifled with. What appears to be a simple, check the box, yes or no question may be much more complicated than you think. This doesn’t mean you need to be afraid, but it does mean you need to be careful. For this reason, it is always advisable to at least consult with an attorney, specifically one who is knowledgable regarding U.S. immigration law.
3. Attorneys Are Licensed and Subject to Discipline
Not all lawyers are good lawyers, or even good people. Not all good lawyers have the requisite knowledge to practice immigration law effectively. However, when you hire an attorney you can know that there are certain safeguards in place. A license to practice law is evidence that an individual had the necessary intelligence and work ethic to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam. It also tells you that this person will be subject to discipline or disbarment in the event they commit ethical violations such as fraud, lack of diligence, or even false advertising. You should hire a licensed attorney for the same reasons you would hire a licensed contractor to work on your house. You can check to see if an attorney is licensed or has been subject to discipline by visiting your state bar association’s website (Washington’s can be found here). Be careful when choosing an attorney, but never hire someone who is not licensed to practice law to do a lawyer’s work.
4. A Non-Lawyer Will Charge You Too Much
Non-lawyers will try to get you to choose them over an attorney by offering to perform the same services for half the cost. While this may seem like a good deal at first, it is important to remember that these people may have no more knowledge than you regarding U.S. immigration law–in fact they may even have less! They will also try to lure you in with guarantees that they will perform their work in a fraction of the time it would take an attorney. What this really means is that they will not approach your immigration matter with the level of care that an attorney would, or with the level of care that you would use in handling the matter yourself. Don’t waste your money.
Don’t be fooled by fancy websites, or guarantees of quick, cheap service. If you need help with a legal matter, immigration or otherwise, hire an attorney.
For more information, follow the link below:
*The only exception to the rule against having a non-attorney assist you with an immigration matter is in the case of “accredited representatives.” These are individuals who work for specific non-profit organizations that are recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals and authorized to represent individuals before the Department of Homeland Security and the Executive Office of Immigration Review.
This blog’s content is provided for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.